Tuesday, April 5, 2011

John Street on politics and popular culture

In "Aesthetics, Policy and the Politics of Popular Culture" John Street tries to broaden the scope of discussion over the politics of popular culture in cultural studies. His aim is to examine the link between aesthetic judgment and politics which is manifested in determining state policies regarding popular culture, with the separation of high and low culture often serving as the criteria for national support.

John Street distinguishes 5 different approaches towards aesthetic judgment of popular culture: right modernism, left modernism, populist postmodernism, pragmatic postmodernism and neo-functionalism.
Right modernism is your typical conservative approach with orthodox perceptions regarding the supremacy of high culture and the view of popular culture as a threat to society.

Left modernism is also discontented with popular culture but for reasons of being a paralyzing mechanism in the service of capitalism (e.g. the Frankfurt School).

Populist postmodernism is the approach associated with some branches of cultural studies which deny the possibility of any universal or objective critetions for aesthetic judgment. Populist postmodernism holds the each consumer has his own needs and ways of interpreting cultural products.

Pragmatic postmodernism argues that aesthetic judgments about popular culture are possible and warranted, but should be made on popular culture's own terms.

Neo-functionalism is in fact Bourdieu's approach according to which aesthetic judgments are a function of a social hierarchy which aims at preserving itself.

Throughout his article Street utilizes his own criterion of judgment – the extent to which these approaches coincide with what Simon Frith (Performing Rights) had so to say. What Street (and Frith) eventually moves to demonstrate is that aesthetic judgment of popular culture is fundamentally a political activity, an extension of social power relations and their enforcement over who gets sponsored.